Friday, April 6, 2012

Leaving Stones on Graves


If you spend much time in a cemetery, you’re bound to see them - those stones left on graves.  I’ve noticed that they are usually left on Jewish graves.  But as for the significance, I didn’t know – until now.


There are several explanations as to why visitors leave small stones or pebbles on someone’s grave.  And it is not strictly a Jewish tradition.  For thousands of years, people were buried in tombs or directly in the earth where they had fallen. Stones were then rolled in front of a tomb as a way of sealing it from scavengers and keeping evil spirits from escaping out into the world.

Cairn
For those buried in the ground, rocks and stones were placed on top of the usually shallow grave to keep animals from digging up the body. These stacks of stones were known as cairns.   Cairns can be found all over the world and vary in size from a few rocks to man-made hills. 

Cairn Sculpture
Cairn Memorial
Cairns were built not only as funeral monuments but also for ceremonies and defense.  Today they are still constructed to mark trails, as seamarks, as sculpture, and as memorials.



Another reason rocks were left on the grave was based on an Eastern European folklore belief that the dead could haunt their burial place, or return to their family and cause trouble.  Stones and rocks were used to prevent the deceased from rising up and escaping the body as a spirit, to torment others.


It is also a Jewish custom to place a stone or pebble on a headstone to indicate that you have visited the grave and to indicate respect for the deceased.  Adding a stone was also seen as taking part in the Mitzvah of Matzevah or the ‘setting of stone.’ 

Today, leaving a stone of remembrance is viewed more as a way of continuing this tradition of commemoration.  The more stones found at a grave, the more the deceased has been visited and remembered by others.  An example would be the scene in Schindler’s List when the people that Oskar Schindler saved visit his grave and honor him by placing stones upon it.

Symbolically, the stones can indicate many things; that love and remembrance are as strong and as lasting as a rock.  That as a stone lasts forever so to does love.   Even a belief that the deceased is with God, since the Old Testament refers to God as a rock, as in Psalm 18:2 -- "The Lord is my rock…”


Regardless of how the custom came about, it is still an incredible way to remember and respect those who have passed on. Leaving a stone or pebble is a gesture of appreciation for the strong and lasting impression they have made on your life. Stones left by others show a long-term influence in their lives as well.  What a wonderful way to leave a lasting tribute of love and honor at the grave site.

~  Joy

16 comments:

  1. Interesting post, and lovely tradition.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lovely tradition.
    Best regards:)
    I´am Marina Garcia from facebook group called "apoyamos" .

    ReplyDelete
  3. What an interesting post! Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed it Herding Cats! (Love the name ; )

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I saw this at a Catholic cemetary on some graves and my siter-in-law said it was a Newfoundlander tradition too. I always thought it was stictly a Jewish tradition.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have also seen stones left at other cemeteries. I think in today's society, it's a way to show your love and remembrance for someone special, regardless of their religion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was recently visited by family who told me about leaving stones on gravesites and I wanted to read about it. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very interesting. I have never seen it in Catholic Cemeteries in Southern Europe, but will sure pick up the tradition...

    ReplyDelete
  9. I wish I didn't have to think about this. But now that my dad passed away at the early age, I am forced to think about it. He always wanted to go cry at the Wall In Jerusalem even though he was Catholic. He never got to do it.It would be a great way to honor him. Afterall most of our ancesters have been Jewish at some point.

    ReplyDelete
  10. A beautiful way to remember loved ones

    ReplyDelete
  11. This was a really interesting post. I came out of curiosity because while walking in a graveyard recently I noticed them. Right or wrong I placed a stone on one myself. I thought since the lady for whom the headstone was made lived so long and lost so many children before her it would be a way to recognize her. I didn't know here. After I went to bed that night I started to worry that the rocks were a bad thing meant to keep her in and started to feel bad. Even if she was mean in life she had obviously had a rough life. Who could blame her .... if she was a sour puss. I felt like going back and removing my stone. I pictured ppl being stoned. I had to know what it meant! Thank you for the post. It eased my mind. I at least know I didn't insult an old Jewish woman after her death.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it was helpful, Jman! You did the right thing by placing a stone on her headstone as a way to recognize her. But I think it was very nice that you would have gone back and removed it if it were meant to keep her weighed down. Far from insulting her memory - you honored it. How nice!

      Delete